We’ve started a new tradition. Walking Toronto Island on Thanksgiving. Lush green trees, autumn colours, glorious vistas, bright sun and crisp air; paradise on our doorstep. And nobody there. The West End YMCA Walking Club visited Centre Island last Sunday morning for an exhilarating walk led by Islander Tony Farebrother, ending with a picnic in the park. What a glorious way to celebrate Thanksgiving!
Tony is a fount of knowledge about the history of the island. The Toronto Islands were originally a peninsula linked to the mainland at the east end, an archipelago of sandbars which protected the mainland from storms… and the Americans. To further secure the large natural harbour, the British built Fort York at the western end. The island led to the creation of the fort, then the town and the city. In the 1850s, a hurricane severed the eastern end of the peninsula from the mainland and carved the channel which created the island. Whether we know it or not, we owe where we live to the existence of the island.
This was our second walk on the island. Each time, our plans for a more extended circuit soon give way to a more leisurely visit to quiet places we did not know existed: hidden lagoons filled with boats, a bird sanctuary, the Island School precinct. Although the City has taken away the large animals, dawdling to watch the small animals in Far Enough Farm retains its delights. Basking in the hot sun, Charlotte the pig flips her distinctive floppy ears, jaunty as can be. The Welsh rabbits amaze with their size, and the Angoras are so cuddly. The llamas and goats never fail to amuse. Farm cats running in and out of the bright red barn obviously benefit from the ban on dogs. And a gaggle of ducks heads for a nearby lagoon. It’s a laid-back reminder of life beyond the city.
The Island may be full of people in the summertime. Off-season, it is grossly under-utilized. The Centre Island amusement park, Centreville, closed a month ago. Sunday was the last day the concessions will be open until next May. Beginning now, the island turns into itself, the Ward’s and Algonquin Island communities keeping the flame of activity alive throughout the year. The Island School still welcomes students for week-long visits. The small animals stay all winter at the farm. The Rectory Café remains open, offering warm drinks and homemade food all year round.
The wonderful bronze statue of Jack Layton on his bicycle-built-for-two welcomes visitors to the ferry docks all year-long and the ferry to Ward’s Island remains on a regular schedule. Autumn on the island is sublime; the colours change with the season and are readily accessible in our own backyard. In the winter, there is ice-skating on the frozen lagoons, and cross-country skiing. Views of the downtown core from the Island remain as spectacular as ever. The cottages of the island community, with their network of tiny pedestrian streets, remain as charming. Years ago, we used to take the children to the Island in early March to gather windfall from the trees. We would make a huge pile of as many sticks and branches as we could carry for a pretend bonfire in the park. It was how we marked the beginning of the end of winter. That was one tradition. Henceforth, visiting the Island in the fall will be another. What an amazing resource we have, a mere TTC trip away. Toronto Island is a blessing for which we are truly thankful.